These Companies Do Work-Life Balance Right

<b class="credit">Jamie Grill, Getty Images</b>
Jamie Grill, Getty Images

If you think you're working harder than ever lately, you're probably right. According to a 2011 Towers Watson survey of 300 businesses in North America, nearly two-thirds of workers are working longer hours than they did just three years earlier. And among workers in professional and managerial positions, a whopping 38 percent of men and 14 percent of women worked 50 hours or more per week between 2006 and 2008, according to a 2010 report from the Center for American Progress. In the minds of many of them, putting in just 40 hours a week would be tantamount to career suicide.

But working more means spending less time with our loved ones and less time taking care of non-work matters. According to the Center for American Progress report, "Americans report sharply higher levels of work-family conflict than do citizens of other industrialized countries. Fully 90 percent of American mothers and 95 percent of American fathers report work-family conflict."

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The news isn't bad for every worker, though. According to a study from the Society for Human Resource Management, 24 percent of organizations have formal work-life balance policies in place, and 52 percent have informal ones. These policies commonly discourage working when sick or on vacation, and working more than a set number of hours per week. Many also discourage workers from answering emails and returning calls during their off-time.

For working parents and those with other responsibilities in their lives, having flexible hours or the ability to work from home some or all of the time is another valuable contributor to work-life balance. Unfortunately, only about 10 percent of companies with balance policies address flexible work arrangements.

The jobs-and-career community issues an annual list of the Top 25 Companies for Work-Life Balance. Here are some noteworthy establishments on the list:

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SAS Institute: Earning the top berth (up from fourth place last year), software specialist SAS scores high marks for its work-life balance. On its website, the company explains that it has "created an environment that fosters and encourages the integration of the company's business objectives with employees' personal needs." Its employees have commented, "Amazing workplace culture, flexible work environment, challenging/stimulating work, customer-focused" and "Great benefits, great environment (most people get their own offices), 35 hour work week."

National Instruments (NATI): In second place is National Instruments, which specializes in scientific and engineering tools. Its benefits include employee wellness plans and on-site medical care. One employee explains, "I make my own hours, don't put in much over 40 hours a week, and while it's not company policy I can occasionally work from home when needed." Another notes, "Very nice people, flexibility in time, work from home sometimes, good attitude, relaxed environment, relaxed dressing and consensus driven."

Mentor Graphics (MENT): This electronic design automation specialist ranks seventh. On its website's career page, it explains, "We're also human. MGC maintains a close-knit, roll-up-your-sleeves atmosphere, with programs that encourage our employees to keep learning, take care of themselves and their families, enjoy a bit of the good life, and be actively involved in the communities where we live and work." Company benefits include flexible time off and a child development center. One employee raves, "For a person with a family, the work-life balance and on-site childcare are absolutely stellar," while another notes, "No one is counting the clock ... you're just entrusted to get your job done."

Agilent Technologies (A): Ranked ninth, Agilent, which was spun off from Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) in 1999, is focused on bioanalytical and electronic measurements. On its website's benefits page, the company states up front, "Very simply, we want to be one of the world's best places to work. [Our employees] tell us that some of their top reasons for working at Agilent include flexible work options, community involvement programs, and employee discounts." Other perks include company sports teams and clubs, as well as on-site massages and yoga. One employee notes, "Engaging work, highly skilled employees, good work culture, flexible work schedules, decent benefits, and bonuses twice per year."

Nokia (NOK): The Finland-based telecom company takes 10th place, and explains on its About Us webpage that "Creativity, empowerment, openness, collaboration, and consideration for people and the environment -- these are all integral to the way we do business." Employee comments support that, with one person noting, "Flexible working hours and work from home options. Good work culture overall." Another explains, "Nokia cares about your personal life. You are always encouraged to take vacation and recharge."

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Longtime Motley Fool contributor Selena Maranjian, whom you can follow on Twitter, owns no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends National Instruments. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.